Avian Influenza Alert: A US City’s Hidden Menace Revealed

Visual Representation | Credits: Reuters

United States: In addition to hunters, aviculturists, and dairy agriculturists, it’s imperative for urbanites, particularly those harboring pets, to exercise caution amidst the ongoing avian flu epidemic sweeping through the United States.

According to experts, a community-driven scientific initiative known as the New York City Virus Hunters (NYCVH) Program has uncovered alarming findings. Their research reveals that a small fraction of avian species traversing the metropolis in recent years have been afflicted with a highly transmittable strain of avian influenza, as per

Over the span of 2022 to 2023, volunteers meticulously amassed 1,927 avian excrement specimens from diverse urban parks and verdant expanses dispersed throughout the city, as well as procuring samples from facilities dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation.

Altogether, tests conducted on these samples unveiled six instances of avian influenza, encompassing a red-tailed hawk, three Canadian geese, a peregrine falcon, and a domestic fowl.

Despite the relatively low threat posed by the presence of avian flu in New York City to its inhabitants and their pets, it remains a situation not devoid of risk, as reported by 

Microbiologist Christine Marizzi, hailing from the esteemed Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, emphasizes the prudence of remaining vigilant and avoiding close encounters with wildlife. She underscores the importance of safeguarding pets against potential exposure to wildlife.

Situated along migratory pathways of numerous avian species, New York City serves as a nexus for human and pet populations, thereby fostering a dense urban interface with wildlife, wherein the populace may be largely oblivious to the prevalence of infectious diseases.

While research indicates the circulation of highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza within New York for a minimum of two years, no instances of human infection have been documented, suggesting a rarity in spillover events.

Conversely, in Texas, a farm laborer recently succumbed to avian flu, likely contracted from an ailing bovine—a case believed to be the initial instance of avian influenza transmission from mammal to human, mentioned. 

The World Health Organization has documented a scant number of avian-to-human flu transmissions worldwide since the onset of the current outbreak in 2020, with the sole case of mammalian transmission originating from Texas.

Nonetheless, WHO authorities are gravely attuned to the potential peril posed by mammalian spillovers, given the potentially lethal nature of H5N1 infections in humans.

Visual Representation for H5N1 Virus | Credits: National Geographic

Within the United States, the avian flu outbreak has infiltrated a gamut of wildlife, spanning from migratory birds to indigenous fauna such as foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks, seals, leopards, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats. Even domesticated canines and felines have succumbed to illness, along with livestock including cattle and goats.

Some within the ranks of WHO categorize the ongoing avian flu epidemic as a global zoonotic crisis.

In a particular incident earlier this year, a dozen felines perished on a dairy farm after consuming milk tainted with avian flu.

Marizzi underscores the pivotal role of avian species in surveillance efforts aimed at detecting circulating influenza and other avian viruses in the New York City environs, which are crucial for assessing threats to both avian and human populations. She stresses the indispensability of community engagement in bolstering such surveillance endeavors.

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